What are the “activities of daily living?”


The activities of daily living (ADLs) is a term used to collectively describe fundamental skills required to independently care for oneself, such as eating, bathing, and mobility.

ADL is used as an indicator of a person’s functional status. The inability to perform ADLs results in the dependence of other individuals and/or mechanical devices. The inability to accomplish essential activities of daily living may lead to unsafe conditions and poor quality of life. Hospitalization for an acute or chronic illness may influence a person’s ability to meet personal goals and sustain independent living. Chronic illnesses progress over time, resulting in a physical decline that may lead to a loss of ability to perform ADLs.

The activities of daily living are classified into basic ADLs and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). The basic ADLs (BADL) or physical ADLs are those skills required to manage one’s basic physical needs, including personal hygiene or grooming, dressing, toileting, transferring or ambulating, and eating. The Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) include more complex activities related to the ability to live independently in the community. This would include activities such as e.g., managing finances and medications, food preparation, housekeeping, laundry.

Basic ADLs
The basic ADL include the following categories:

  • Ambulating – The extent of an individual’s ability to move from one position to another and walk independently.
  • Feeding – The ability of a person to feed oneself.
  • Dressing – The ability to select appropriate clothes and to put the clothes on.
  • Personal hygiene – The ability to bathe and groom oneself and maintain dental hygiene, nail, and hair care.
  • Continence – The ability to control bladder and bowel function.
  • Toileting – The ability to get to and from the toilet, using it appropriately, and cleaning oneself.

Learning how each basic ADL affects an individual to care for themselves can help determine whether a patient would need daily assistance. It can also help the elderly or disabled people to determine their eligibility got state and federal assistance programs.

Instrumental ADLs
The instrumental ADLs are those that require more complex thinking skills, including organizational skills.

  • Transportation and shopping – Ability to procure groceries, attend events, and managing transportation, either via driving or by organizing other means of transport.
  • Managing finances – This includes the ability to pay bills and managing financial assets.
  • Shopping and meal preparation – Everything required to get a meal on the table. It also covers shopping for clothing and other items required for daily life.
  • Housecleaning and home maintenance – Cleaning kitchens after eating, maintaining living areas reasonably clean and tidy, and keeping up with home maintenance.
  • Managing communication with others – The ability to manage telephone and mail.
  • Managing medications – Ability to obtain medications and taking them as directed.

The IADL differs from ADL as people often begin asking for outside assistance when these tasks become difficult to manage independently.

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Information pulled directly from the NIH website: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470404/#article-17137.s1